Metro Council catches Legislature’s ire with vote rejecting Republican convention
Nashville Mayor John Cooper “incompetent,” says Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, left, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Majority Leader William Lamberth, all Republicans, had strong words for Nashville’s leadership after Metro Council rejected a contract to host the 2024 Republican National Committee. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Tennessee’s courtship of the Republican National Convention is over after the Metro Nashville Council rejected a move Tuesday to bring the 2024 event to town, a vote likely to elicit retribution from the Legislature.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally appeared especially irritated, putting the lion’s share of the blame on Mayor John Cooper – who negotiated the deal but refused to support it – and calling out the entire council.
“It is truly unfortunate Tennessee will now likely lose a great opportunity due to Mayor Cooper’s incompetence and the Metro Council’s obstinance,” McNally said in a Wednesday statement. “Nashville’s government has sent a clear message that they are not interested in national conventions and the revenue such events yield. They do not wish to serve as ambassadors for our state.”
Cooper spokesman TJ Ducklo responded that the mayor’s office understands the “feelings of disappointment” but that Cooper could not get past questions about security.
“Mayor Cooper has raised concerns about the cost and security risks of hosting either party’s convention since this topic was first raised, and those concerns unfortunately were not fully addressed,” Ducklo said in a statement.
By a 10-22 vote, with three abstaining, the council turned down a measure by Council member Robert Swope for a contract between Metro and the RNC to bring the convention to town. It was already a long shot, considering a Republican selection committee picked Milwaukee two weeks ago and the final decision is to be made Thursday.
It is truly unfortunate Tennessee will now likely lose a great opportunity due to Mayor Cooper’s incompetence and the Metro Council’s obstinance.
– Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge
Legislative leaders did not mention specific action the Republican-controlled General Assembly might take next year when it convenes. But some type of retaliation is expected.
“Nashville’s Metro Council just surpassed other Democrat-run cities like Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, Charlotte and Milwaukee as the most progressive, liberal council in America by turning down a massive economic and international public relations win for our state and their community. Each of these other cities has already hosted or will host the RNC,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said.
The Crossville Republican accused council progressives of wanting to trade “favors” or negotiate in exchange for a positive vote. Swope’s proposal contained wording that would have asked the Legislature to approve development impact fees and inclusionary zoning for Metro Nashville.
Sexton noted the Legislature already opposed similar measures this year by Mayor Cooper and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles. But he was not willing to trade.
“I have been very clear in every conversation about the RNC that I was not negotiating nor was I offering any incentives for council members to do the right thing – as Milwaukee has done,” Sexton said in a statement.
Sexton noted “ample discussions” will be held about legislation and Nashville before the Legislature convenes in January.
Fallout from the state is a constant state of affairs in Nashville. Just last fall we had most of the powers of our health department taken away for really no good reason at all. So I expect there to be fallout, but I always expect there to be fallout from things we do and don’t do.
– Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes
House Majority Leader William Lamberth, a Portland Republican, also weighed in with disappointment.
“Nashville’s leadership has failed again. Appreciate the few council members who saw beyond partisan lines and voted for what was right. The people of TN will remember this vote for a long time and so will I,” Lamberth said in a Twitter post.
Several forms of retribution have been floated, including pulling $500 million in bond notes for construction of a domed Titans stadium, a measure Sexton and many Republicans supported, stopping state participation on a Cooper-backed East Bank road project where major development is scheduled and even trying to cut the 40-member council in half.
Council member Bob Mendes, who voted against the ordinance, pointed out that no legislators have made specific threats against Metro, yet he expects some form of punishment.
“Fallout from the state is a constant state of affairs in Nashville. Just last fall we had most of the powers of our health department taken away for really no good reason at all. So I expect there to be fallout, but I always expect there to be fallout from things we do and don’t do,” Mendes said.
Besides action against the Metro Health Department over COVID-19 policy, the Republican-controlled Legislature drew Davidson County into three congressional districts, likely killing its chances of having a Democrat in Congress, changed the state’s K-12 funding formula, impacting the amount Metro Nashville Public Schools receives from the state, and continued the push for private-school vouchers, which could hurt Metro schools.
Swope, whose proposal included an amendment endorsing a trade of RNC votes for state approval of impact fees and inclusionary zoning, urged council members to put aside any partisan ideology and consider the long-term effect of their decision. He pointed out the contract fully indemnifies Nashville from all financial obligations and noted that net revenue was expected to exceed $200 million.
The federal government would have provided $50 million to pay for security, and the Legislature approved $25 million to cover other costs. That was to be supplemented by a host committee led by Gov. Bill Lee, former Gov. Bill Haslam, and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden.
Swope contended the host committee would cover the costs of any conventions that would be displaced by the Republican event.
Council members who opposed the convention vote have said they don’t want either the Democratic or Republican conventions, but mainly they raised concerns that protests could get out of hand, especially in light of the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Admitting that security could be a problem, Swope argued nevertheless that Metro has “flawlessly executed” large events in downtown Nashville.
“If you say no to hosting the RNC in Nashville, which half of the country or which selective group within that are you gonna say no to next month or next year. And what long-lasting consequences, both practical and political, are we inviting on our city in the future?” Swope said.
He added that he believes the “future of Nashville is at stake.”
No other council members spoke on the matter during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Those voting against the ordinance were Mendes, Sharon Hurt, Burkley Allen, Zulfat Suara, Kyonzte Toombs, Sean Parker, Brett Withers, Emily Benedict, Nancy VanReece, Tonya Hancock, Russ Bradford, Jeff Syracuse, Ginny Welsch, Colby Sledge, Tom Cash, Brandon Taylor, Gloria Hausser, Bob Nash, Sandra Sepulveda, John Rutherford, Joy Styles and Dave Rosenberg.
Voting yes were Swope, Jonathan Hall, Zach Young, Erin Evans, Kevin Rhoten, Mary Carolyn Roberts, Thom Druffel, Kathleen Murphy, Courtney Johnston and Tanaka Vercher.
Abstaining were Freddie O’Connell, Jennifer Gamble and Antoinette Lee. Five members were absent.
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